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Tell us about your amp setup right now.
Right now I’m down to only one amplifier. I used to play a huge wall of amps: a Fender Vibro-King, a Marshall JCM 900 and two Riveras. One was a custom job, a Rivera 15 with one 15” and then they gave me a 4x12 with their modular system in it—although I only used a few tones, so I didn’t switch around the modules too much… a blackface Twin sound and a Deluxe. I’m using a Chicago Blues Box now.
Those are some really well-made amps.
They are! I was contacted by a friend that said they were interested in me, and at the time I was doing the record, Vantage Point, which came out in September 2008, and they sent me out their Humbolt head, which is like a master volume Marshall. They also sent me out a Bassman and a little Kingston combo. And I really liked the Humbolt head, so they sold it to me and threw in the Bassman. The Humbolt sounded really good, so I just started working on that and trying to adjust myself to it, and now I sound great on just that one amp.
What do you like about the Humbolt?
It gets a good range of clarity. I have to hear all of my strings when I play. I can’t just have it grunge out. With the style of music I play, I have to hear all of the strings when I hit that big 9 chord. I don’t want it dirty on one end and twangy on the other. And that amp’s doing well with it; I’ve learned how to work with it.
When you’re playing through such a simplified rig, do you have many pedals in front of you, or do you just run straight into the amp?
Well, I used to use a Cesar Diaz Texas Ranger pedal, which Cesar personally gave to me, and it was actually a great pedal with my other rig. But now with my new rig, the tones have changed and it doesn’t work as well, so I’m using the Xotic BB Plus as my main distortion right now… mostly for low-volume situations. I’ve also got a CE-5 Chorus that I use for a Leslie sound—turn the Rate and Effect all the way up, and turn back the Depth so it’s not detuning. I also use a BOSS DD-3. I used to use Echoplexes, and I still have three of them, but they’re temperamental when you get them out on the road. So I just learned to use the DD-3.
I also have a Hoochie-Mama pedal, built by a guy out of North Carolina, and it’s just like a boost. On occasion, I’ll have that on all the time if I have to play real quietly. I’ll turn the Output up and the Drive down so it rounds out my tone. And then I have a Univibe sort of pedal handmade by a guy over in Japan. It’s called the Sobbat Glow-Vibe. He’s given me one, and Eric Johnson gave me his.
When Chris Duarte hits the road or the studio, here’s the gear he’s packing.
You know, I think I’m starting to use space more, I’m starting to phrase things more. I’m still just as hungry as I was when I was a young man, but I use space more and I try to be a little more tasteful. Because I think everybody’s got what I call “Young Man’s Disease,” where you play as many notes as you can as fast as you can to fill up all the space available. And of course I went through that phase, but after working with [producer] Mike Varney on the last couple of albums, and seeing how a song is really built… the way he changes things has made me look at songs differently.
Before, I would write a song and that was it. It was like, “What do you mean I’ve got to change it?” But I’ve learned to look at a song after I’ve written it, and ask myself, “Is this the right way? Can we try something else?” It’s made me look at a lot of things differently.